Leaked last week, the internal directive not only forbids ORF journalists from expressing their political views on social networks but also from retweeting or “liking” the views of other people.
“In future, any public statement that could be interpreted as approval or disapproval, any expression of sympathy or dislike, and any critical or controversial comments about political institutions and their representatives should be avoided,” said the directive, which has sparked an outcry in ORF’s newsrooms and among its journalists.
Among those targeted is ORF star anchor Armin Wolf, who is well known for his outspoken comments and frequent clashes with Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right FPÖ party, the junior partner in the coalition that has ruled Austria since last December. Wolf has more than 400,000 online followers.
Strache has repeatedly attacked the state broadcaster since December, accusing its journalists of broadcasting “fake news” and portraying himself as a victim of “the system’s media.”
One of the leading points in the coalition’s election programme was “greater control of the public broadcaster, ORF,” which was described as subservient to the traditional social-democratic and conservative parties.
“By restricting the use of social networks by journalists, including political reporters, the ORF management is violating not only their freedom of expression but also their right to inform, as these tweets are information vehicles,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk. “This public broadcaster’s management must resist government pressure and must withdraw this directive.”
Austria is currently ranked 11th out of 180 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index.